Where has this guy been?
On Wednesday President Obama hit the reset button on U.S. relations with Cuba. After fifty years of U.S. arm wrestling with the Castros to no avail, he announced that relations would be “normalized.” An embassy would be established.
Additional changes to travel and trade restrictions will apparently follow over the next few months as Obama moves to unravel this failed policy. Watch for a stream of Florida-based Castro haters heading back to Havana to visit the cousins they have never met.
The opponents were quick to defend the existing policy – something that has brought about no change for the better in Cuba whatsoever.
Much of the opposition focused on the prisoner trade – Cubans who were implicated in the downing of two anti-Castro private planes were swapped for aid worker Alan Gross and a U.S. spy named Rolando Trujillo who had been feeding info to the U.S. about Cuban operatives here. The Cubans also agreed to release 53 political prisoners.
Let’s note that the announcement of the new policy was made possible by this swap, but clearly the Administration had been preparing the change for some time. Discussions about the normalization of relations began eighteen months ago in Canada. The Pope has been involved. The prisoner exchange was a sidebar.
Marco Rubio, Florida Republican Senator of Cuban descent, railed against the President for “coddling dictators and tyrants.” The fulminations from Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are yet to come. Not all the opposition was Republican. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), outgoing Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, also took umbrage.
The big change – it looks like the Internet will be coming to Cuba. This means that eventually the regime there is toast. A widely informed Cubano population will not let things stay as they are. We can all speed things along by “friending” Raul Castro on Facebook.
Those who visit Cuba will be able to use credit cards to purchase as much as $100 in cigars and rum, another real plus. Maybe the Mariners can find a truly outstanding third baseman without the guy having to ruin his hands paddling over here in a rowboat.
This is a good, bold move by Obama. Following his executive action on immigration, might this signal that the President is becoming more – Presidential?
The Last Dance
After passage of the omnibus appropriations bill, outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), kept the Senators in town long enough to confirm 24 of the Administration’s nominees and to pass (sigh) the tax extenders bill. Some of the confirmations were controversial. The anti-gun gang opposed confirmation of Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General because of comments he made about gun violence being a health problem. They also confirmed Sarah Saldaña, to be Director of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and Antony Blinken to be Deputy Secretary of State.
They passed the tax loophole extenders bill with only 16 negative votes. After the President threatened to veto efforts to make some of the most awful of these loopholes permanent, the bill simply took about 50 of them and extended them for a year.
One good consequence of this is that it makes impossible Republican attempts to give permanent tax breaks away this year. They wanted to do them now so that they would not have to account for them in the deficit-expanding tax reform bill they are planning for next year. Nevertheless, this bill reveals the hypocrisy of the anti-deficit mob. See an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice: “Even at One-Tenth the Size of Previous Tax Deal, House Extender Bill Is a Giveaway for Corporations.”
The New York Stock Exchange had its best two days in history. U.S. job and GDP growth continued to exceed expectations. In Russia, Putin did an interview to explain why the Ruble was in freefall and the economy headed into a serious recession. It was not his fault – the “mistakes were made, but not by me” mantra. Do you recall that John McCain (R-Arizona) went onto the floor of the Senate to call the President’s policies “feckless?”
With Congress gone, beltway insiders filled the air with reactions to the decision by Sony Pictures not to release a movie – “The Interview” – that portrays a fictional plot to assassinate dictator Kim Jong-un. Apparently the movie’s pending release led to a hacking of Sony’s computers with retaliation threats from North Korea. The teasers for the movie make it look like “Dumb and Dumber do Pyongyang.” How is it possible that such nonsense has become a serious foreign policy dispute?
Remember this issue? It has to do with the fact that a corporation can be registered by a state without having to identify who actually owns the company. This creates a “shell corporation” that can create a subsidiary someplace and then pass money around without anyone being able to trace it. These shell corporations have been used to avoid taxation, launder terrorist money, commit fraud, and bilk seniors.
The European Parliament is moving forward a plan to require its member countries to collect information on the natural persons who actually own or control companies. The information is to be placed in a central registry where it will be available to law enforcement.
The U.S. is rated as being the easiest place in the world, next to Kenya, to create a shell company. Legislation to require collection of beneficial ownership information in the U.S. has been bottled up in committee in the Congress by opposition from the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the consequences of this campaign by the Secretaries to hide crime from detection can be found in a report prepared by our friends at Global Financial Integrity.
A new effort to expand Medicaid is being pushed by business interests in Florida. Tennessee has approved an expansion. True, these plans play like they are a non-governmental approach but what they really do is add a costly and useless new layer between the government and the insurance program. Nevertheless, the expansions are important to the health of millions of low-income adults.
Just for fun, let’s note an article in the New York Times showing how Medicaid is growing even in state that have not opted for expansion – an overall increase so far of 6.8 percent, or about 1.5 million people nationally. Enrollment is up 13.4 percent in Idaho, 12.9 percent in Georgia and 12.4 percent in North Carolina.
About 2.5 million new customers have bought into exchange insurance products in the second year’s open enrollment.
A couple of interesting rumors about where important legislative projects will go as some members of the Senate retire. The departure of Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) has left advocates wondering who might take up Levin’s effort to cut offshore tax loopholes. It looks like this mantle will be donned by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) efforts to expand opportunities for retirement security will be taken up by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
The Congress is going to return in its new guise on January 6. In spite of the trauma that this prospect might produce among many of our friends, Christmas and the New Year will be celebrated at the usual times. Merry Christmas everyone.